Planned Happenstance

From the Journal of Counseling & Development: Planned happenstance theory is a conceptual framework extending career counseling to include the creating and transforming of unplanned events into opportunities for learning.

Growing up in the middle of Florida, I spent a good portion of my childhood exploring the woods and I would often find pieces of cardboard to surf down the grassy hills of overpasses covering the train tracks. You don’t need water to surf when you’re a kid. Some days when I explored I would find pieces of carpet (we lived near a carpet installer) and I would use the carpet padding to teach my siblings how to do flips. 

I didn’t know what planned happenstance was back then. I didn’t know that teaching my siblings how to flip on disregarded carpet padding and how to balance on flying sheets of cardboard would lead to my first job as a gymnastics coach, but it did. I didn’t know that later in life I would use all of my coaching fundamentals to teach recruiters how to source, engage candidates, meet client expectations, and end their projects with a solid dismount, but it did. 

I can’t count all the roads I’ve driven down for a detour to explore the unknown. Sometimes I’d find nothing but more road or a dead end, but other times I would find a quaint town I hadn’t seen before, or access to rivers and lakes I didn’t know about (swimming holes are the best surprises). 

When I learned about planned happenstance in a college class, I decided I would make a conscious effort to apply exploration in a way I hadn’t been fully aware of. I was going to take fun classes, go to events, volunteer, and surround myself with people who had shared interests outside of traditional networking just to see what opportunities might arise. If you’re in the hiring game, networking is likely already part of your routine, and perhaps it is second nature. Second nature means you’re great at whatever you’re doing and you no longer have to actively think about how to perform. If you have no plans to grow beyond driving down the same road, then keep doing what you’re doing. 

Or, you can try to think beyond networking…

  1. Think of an area in life you want to explore. This could be a hobby, volunteering, new interest, meetup, etc. 
  2. Find a place where you can exercise exploration with unfamiliar faces
  3. Be open to learning from others

Exploring isn’t just for kids. You don’t have to grow out of your curiosity. As it turns out, exploration can have serious career benefits. You can position yourself at places you’ve never been to see what will happen. You can take an obscure art class and end up sitting next to your future client. You can volunteer to help adults with disabilities and meet your future guest speaker from Pinterest. All you have to do is drive down a road you haven’t explored before and be open to a new experience. 

Natalie Dunnege